Microaggressions on self-esteem?

I just read a couple of articles out of the NY Times about microaggressions. Those little things that people say or do that communicate something negative to you whether it’s because of your race, gender, religion etc.

That got me wondering about microaggressions and bullying. This isn’t something big like shaking someone down for their lunch money, I mean the thousands of slights and put-downs that eventually ruin a child’s self-esteem. My boys are always on me about how I don’t like myself much and they don’t understand it because they think I’m great. Well, let’s see.

I don’t think I had much problem with it before I went to school. I stayed home with my mom and the kids she babysat, so it was kind of my roost, my rules kind of thing. Then I started school. My mom recalls getting a call from my kindergarten teacher on the first day of school because I was sitting out on the back step crying. Why? Because the other kids were mean to me, that’s why.

It didn’t get any better. I think I was on the ASD spectrum at least a little bit back then because I had problems dealing with other kids. If I didn’t want to do what they did or didn’t want to do what they told me to, I’d just leave and go play by myself. I didn’t see the big deal, but by rejecting them, the other kids rejected me too. If I’d go over to play on a piece of equipment, they’d all leave, or at least leave my immediate vicinity like I had some infectious disease. I was always called “weird” and “stupid.”

I hated P.E. because it was a group activity. In the classroom I could use my brain and excel (and I did), but in the gym or out in the field by the playground, I had to be part of a group that never wanted me. I wasn’t physically inept or anything, but I was always the last person picked for teams. Always. I could go out and run around with the other kids, but I almost never got the ball or had a chance to make a difference. And even when I did, I was never congratulated or even treated any better. I got the feeling that they resented me.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that about the only thing recess was good for was extra reading time. I’d take my book out and sit by the door and read until it was time to come in. That seemed to work out okay, if I wasn’t in their line of sight, the other kids forgot I existed. That’s what I preferred too.

Group work in the classroom was torture. I was bright and I’d get the material easily, but whenever I expressed my opinion or spoke up (which came as naturally as breathing) I’d get one of two reactions. One was that they’d let me tell them what to put down so they didn’t have to figure it out for themselves. The other usually happened when I was in a group where someone else wanted to take the lead and they didn’t want my input. That led to a lot of “Who cares what you think?” or “Shut up. Who wants to listen to you?”

And this was just elementary school. Junior high was just as bad, though we didn’t have to go out to recess as often, which was nice. What got me through that was that I found someone else like I was – a social pariah that no one wanted to be around. We became best friends and kept to ourselves. In the lunch room we’d sit at the table with the special ed kids because they didn’t tell us we weren’t welcome to sit with them. They were about the only ones. Otherwise, either we were told outright to find somewhere else to sit, or we’d sit down and everyone around us would vacate.

So when I heard about microaggressions, this is where my mind went. The systematic destruction of my feeling of self-worth by being put down, ignored and resented for years. I still struggle with this. My only lifeline was that I was very intelligent, so I clung to that. And now that even that is self–destructing, it’s forcing me to confront some hard realities. Like what makes someone worthwhile? At what point to you give enough to the people around you to make up for what you take? Where’s the tipping point? There are a lot of times when I feel like I’m close.

And then for me there’s acceptance in the adult world. I’ve found it, though not to the degree of those around me. I’m still the outsider in the group because I’m different, though I can’t see what I’m doing differently, I feel it.

A lot of times I feel like I have people-repellent on. I don’t think people even notice it, but every time I go somewhere and people vacate the area, or work to ignore my presence, it re-opens one of the tiny cuts from those microaggressions suffered as a kid. And though it may not seem like a big thing, the pain is real. And the scars are still there.


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